As coronavirus risks resurface, MLB and players remain mired in ugly, public spat over money

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

We’re still working off the concept of “mine,” which we should have been over by now.

Maybe next month. Or next year. Probably not though.

Major League Baseball owners and the Players Association have maneuvered themselves fully into the next headwind, because nobody’s yet been guaranteed enough “mine,” and you could pick your culprit and not be wrong.

The shamefulness in these negotiations could fill all of those empty ballparks at the root of the standoff.

Before proposals are delivered, they’ve already been aired, dismissed as insulting and heaved onto a pile of evidence that if there is a baseball season it will be played against a lasting grudge. On Friday afternoon, two or three hours after most of the terms had been leaked and then reported on social media, MLB officials submitted their latest proposal and asked that the union get back to them by Sunday.

Players were mocking that proposal within minutes. The union leaked that of course it would not accept the newest terms. This is not a negotiation, it’s one food fight after another. Nobody even bothers cleaning up in between.

They seem to despise each other, the people who run the game and those who play it. Maybe there’s no avoiding that. But they should also consider the cost of publicly casting the others as irremediable villains, of trading in access journalism to that end, of reaching for public favor at the expense of the other guy, and then how it all will look on the other side, when the game and its fans are chew toys with the stuffing gnawed out. It is disgraceful.

You’d think neither of them had an interest in playing a baseball game this summer. Maybe one of them should just say so.

Yesterday, or maybe it was the day before, longing for baseball seemed a natural, normal sentiment. Replacing a drop of the anxiety in people’s heads with a few hours of ball seemed an honorable pursuit. In a crisis, the best among us square their shoulders and get on with it. And so we rooted for the men who have for generations benefited from our emotional and economic loyalty. We rooted for the men who would risk themselves, risk their families, in order to show the way out of our own delicate psyches, however temporarily.

Then we stood around and watched them try — and fail — to settle up on “mine.” 

Commissioner Rob Manfred presided over the shortened MLB draft Wednesday before the league delivered another proposal to the players asking them to take a pay cut beyond their already prorated salaries. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Sometime soon commissioner Rob Manfred seems likely to order the players back under the terms of a late-March agreement, and so he would intend a season of 50 or 60 games with a broader postseason element (if that part could be agreed upon). That season will be viewed as inadequate, as eye wash, as the result of a failure of leadership, because the greater profit outscored the greater good. The greater profit is undefeated. With any foresight, with just a little bit of dignity, with some cooperation, games could have been played in two weeks. They won’t be. Not even close.

Meantime, the coronavirus is gathering momentum again where people and governments lack the patience to outlast COVID-19, and instead have grown bored of it.

There are immediate concerns in Arizona, Texas and Florida, where speculation once placed bubble-like training camps and regular-season games. There are five teams in those states, not counting spring facilities, areas into which teams may be forced as alternatives to their own cities. Los Angeles County, under a gradual reopening plan, is spiking again, for another, and it bumps up against Orange County (where mask-wearing requirements were successfully contested), which isn’t all that far from San Diego County.

This is an issue. Some players, privately, are not sure a 50-game season is worth the chances for infection or injury or both. It is fair to wonder how many with children or elderly parents or elevated health risks will hesitate when it comes time to leave their homes.

Maybe they’ll be convinced to play for the paycheck they already know their bosses don’t think they deserve. Maybe they’d consider it for the good of a game that had an opportunity to look out for itself and didn’t.

The paperwork says the team owners on Friday offered a 72-game season and an expanded postseason over which the players could make about 83 percent of their full prorated salaries. That won’t be good enough again. And so the outcome of that proposal is a few more days of games gone, another sliver of summer gone, and that’s about it.

Eventually, in a few days or a week or whenever it gets too embarrassing to continue on like this, assuming it ever does, there’ll be a plan for baseball. And that’ll mean somebody will have gotten enough of “mine.”

Then we can have a short conversation about whether it was worth it. Or, hell, just a food fight.

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